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office sushiWe’ve all been victims of the rubbery chicken, dry vegetables, and soggy salad that represent corporate catering. Chewse is attempting to address these wrongs with its platform that makes it easier for organizations to cater their events with tasty, restaurant meals.

Chewse recently presented at the 500 Startups Demo Day in Mountain View and today announced the close of a $1 million round of seed funding. So far, Chewse is only active in LA but this financing will facilitate geographical (and waistband) expansion.

screenshotOn Chewse’s marketplace, professionals enter their search parameters and the engine will yield relevant results. There are basic filters, including zip code, delivery time and date, number of guests, and budget, but the listings can also be narrowed by specific types of cuisine, dietary restrictions, and serving style. Orders can be made and paid for online, and Chewse will ensure onetime delivery.

Chewse solves 2 problems that office admins across the country face,” said founder Tracy Lawrence in an email.

“First, the discovery of meals that will accomodate various dietary restrictions and cuisine preferences of people in a group. Second is the actual ordering of meals. With over 95% of the catering market transacted offline with phones and faxes, we’re creating a simplified way to order that can be done swiftly and with a few clicks. We are using technology, not manpower, to route orders and make recommendations.”

Lawrence spent years in the hospitality industry and experienced first hand how difficult and expensive it was for office administrators and event planners to order food for big groups. She wanted to connect organizations with restaurants that offer tasty, quality food, rather than simply aggregating every restaurant that has a catering option. Furthermore Chewse makes it simple to order new and interesting meals, rather than sandwiches every time.

Chewse is has already fed more than 20,000 meals to big customers, including Wells Fargo, the University of Southern California, and PriceWaterHouseCoopers. Lawrence said these corporations are willing to spend tens-of-thousands dollars a year on Chewse, and the waiting list is more than 700 companies long.

“The catering industry is a $33 billion market, so there are plenty of industry players that this is going to matter to,” she said. “The ones we’ve touched on are the office admin assistants and their teams that are seeking quality options. There are also the restaurants that are hurting for business and don’t have marketing avenues that translate to direct catering sales. Restaurant make double the margins on catering margins as they do with retail orders. Finally, big food manufacturers are constantly seeking data to innovate on food products and chart taste trends. With such a high volume industry like catering, we’re building heaps of data on taste preferences and what moves the needle for these big players.”

Chewse has not yet revealed their next market. The company recently relocated their headquarters from L.A. to San Francisco, but the presence of startups like ZeroCater that offers similar services means Lawrence considering other options. Chris Sacca, Telegraph Hill, InnoSpring, Benjamin Ling, Richard Chen, Russell Cook, and 500 Startups invested in this round.

Photo credit: Bods/Flickr

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